An appeals court struck down deportation relief for about 5 million undocumented individuals late Monday, in the latest blow to President Obama's immigration reforms. The judges ordered that the Obama administration overreached its power by protecting people brought to the US illegally as children and parents of US citizens.
The judges, of the conservative US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, voted 2-1 in favor of the 26 states that sued the administration, claiming they'd suffer financially if the individuals gained legal status. Texas argued it would have to allow the residents to apply for driver's licenses, and since the state subsidizes driver's licenses, it would incur additional costs.
Texas' Governor Greg Abbott called the court ruling a "vindication for the rule of law and Constitution."
"The president's job is to enforce the immigration laws, not rewrite them," Abbott said in a press statement. "The president should abandon his lawless executive action amnesty program and start enforcing the law today."
The administration has one more chance to legally defend its program of expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parent Arrivals). The Department of Justice Tuesday announced it would appeal the latest decision to the US Supreme Court.
"The Department of Justice remains committed to taking steps that will resolve the immigration litigation as quickly as possible in order to allow DHS to bring greater accountability to our immigration system by prioritizing the removal of the worst offenders, not people who have long ties to the United States and who are raising American children," Patrick Rodenbush, the Department of Justice spokesman, said in an emailed statement. "The Department disagrees with the Fifth Circuit's adverse ruling and intends to seek further review from the Supreme Court of the United States. "
As the legal battle ensues millions of longtime US residents wait anxiously to see if they can step out of the shadows and become documented. Greisa Martinez, a 26-year-old Mexico native who came to the States at two months old, qualified for DACA's first round of protections passed in 2012, so can now breathe easily in the country. But her mother, who immigrated at age 20 and has four children here, hangs her hope on the passage of DAPA, which would shield her from deportation.
"My mother asks me, 'so are you saying I can apply or can't apply for amnesty?' It's been a source of confusion," Martinez, now Advocacy Director with the immigrant youth organization United We DREAM, told VICE News of the litigation. She noted that President Obama announced his reform nearly a year ago, November 20, 2014.
"The biggest hurdle, concern and priority now is to ensure our community has clarity about what this actually means," she said.
Martinez and her mother remain committed to the reforms, at whatever cost. Martinez's father was a Baptist minister in Dallas until cops pulled him over for not totally stopping at a stop sign. They handed him to immigration authorities, who detained and then deported him, Martinez recalled.
"I needed to do something so no other family would feel the pain mine had," said Martinez, whose mother Elia Rosa has recently come out as undocumented and testified before reporters. "We're trying to ensure our family can stay together."
While Martinez's family has taken bold action, many of the potential DACA and DAPA recipients have been trapped by fear and a sense of helplessness.
"Although it's confusing and at times seems hopeless, the very reason we have a chance is because of our commitment to pushing the president," Martinez said of the immigrants' continued fight.
If the Supreme Court indeed rules against the president's amnesty, however, legal analysts told VICE News it could pose major hurdles for future executive actions, whether they address immigration, environmental regulation, or any other issues.
"By this court's reasoning a state could challenge anything the executive branch did," Stephen Legomsky, a professor at the Washington University School of Law, told VICE News.
"If the Supreme Court upholds this it could be very difficult for future presidents to do this or modify it," Legomsky said of immigration reforms. "This could pose tremendous problems for future administrations on all sorts of executive actions, not just immigration."
But Legomsky said the Supreme Court may hear the case since there were "many serous flaws in the court's decision," including a failure to acknowledge Title 8 Section 1182 of US Code, which allows the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to authorize a period of stay for "any alien."
Regardless of what the courts decide, Philip Wolgin, Associate Director of Immigration at the Center for American Progress, told VICE News that immigration reform would remain a top issue for 2016 presidential candidates and future administrations.
"Regardless of the court decision, what the candidates choose to do on executive action on immigration will still be major litmus test," Wolgin said.
Watch VICE News documentary Immigrant America: The High Cost of Deporting Parents: